Friday, January 23, 2009

Reflections on Four Years of Ordination

Four years ago today, I was ordained into Christian ministry in the United Church of Christ.

I wasn't really planning an entry about this fact. Today is Pop Culture Roundup day, after all. And four years, while an accomplishment and a milestone in itself, is not a nice rounded-off one like, say, five years would be.

Still, I began wondering what an entry reflecting on my ordination would look like so many years after the fact. If one reads back over some of what I wrote on this blog in January of 2005, I was understandably excited and honored that such an event was happening. One can sense how wide-eyed I was about the entire experience.

Today, after continuing to work out my calling and attempt to live up to the vows that I took that afternoon, I find myself pondering whether I'm still wide-eyed about the whole thing; still as gleeful and naive as I seemed to be in those early entries.

Yes and no.

Four years can make a lot of difference in one's perspective. At the start of something, there's no way that you can know where the path will lead or what will be asked or demanded of you. And even though I'd received some excellent hands-on training during my seminary years, they only provided a small snippet, a modest idea, of what I may need to face in full-time ordained ministry.

In the past four years, I've done the following:

~Moderated a small congregational uproar in the aftermath of General Synod 25
~Officiated a private wedding for a retired couple and their immediate family on an early Tuesday evening with maybe a week's notice
~Introduced guitar to an otherwise traditional worship service and faced the consequences
~Been called to the ER out of the blue one morning to be with a family watching and waiting for a loved one to slip away
~Baptized, married, and conducted a funeral for a 34-year-old cancer victim, all in less than a year
~Driven a drifter to a nearby hotel and paid for his room
~Helped a shut-in clean fresh dog pee off her dining room wall
~Prayed with a family around their wife and mother before they removed life support
~Recited the communion liturgy an estimated 300+ times (so far) in homes, hospitals, and nursing facilities
~Planned an elevator dedication. How often do pastors plan elevator dedications?
~Preached about, advocated, planned, and promoted mission, mission, mission

Besides that, you can fill in many moments of meetings, youth ministry, administrivia, pushing back against traditionalism, coffee-drinking, visioning, complete joy, complete frustration, and bouts of insomnia when I couldn't let some church-related thing go.

Through all that, I like to think that my naivete has abated; that my spirit is much more weathered and grounded now regarding the enterprise of ordained ministry. There is far more to learn and experience and initiate and strive for, but everything mentioned above has chipped away at any sort of head-in-the-clouds approach that I had four years ago.

But am I still wide-eyed? I would say that I am. It's no longer the wide-eyedness of someone excited at concluding one leg of a journey and starting another. Now it is the sort that can still feel amazement at what I'm invited and privileged to do. There are moments that are painful or ridiculous or petty, but there are also moments that are life-giving or redeeming or epiphany-inducing. And I've taken it all in, seeing and hearing and remembering my ordination vows in new and deeper ways.

Oh, and four years ago I wrote this:
In preparation for my ordination, I bought a robe yesterday. It's your standard black academic robe that the Reformed guys in Geneva would have worn. I keep trying to picture myself in a white alb, and I look silly.
I wear an alb every week now, and I look just fine.

Interesting indeed how things change.